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We spent a week each in Umbria and the Marches in May and June 2003, staying in rented properties. In Umbria we stayed on the edge of Assisi in a 1000 year old tower. The countryside there is hilly and full of lovely old towns.

In the Marches we stayed at Le Piane, midway between Amándola and Sarnano. The towns are less striking, though still often pleasant and well situated, but the terrain is mountainous. We chose the location because of the vicinity of the Sibylline Mountains, and when we went cycling we piled on the vertical metres.

Tracey took a road bike and Colin a mountain bike.

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Maps. We used the TCI 1:200,000 map and some maps in the Austrian Kompass 1:50,000 series. Numbers 665 and 666 (Assisi–Camerino and Monti Sibillini) were enough for most of our rides. They can be obtained from Cordee. We also used 663 (Perugia–Assisi) which we bought locally. We did not see Kompass maps for sale in the Marches.

The Kompass maps have contours at 100m intervals. They also show mountain bike routes, although these are not waymarked on the ground and the criteria for their selection are obscure. They give fuller coverage of tracks and white roads than do the TCI maps, while still far from exhaustive. Neither series has a grid suitable for GPS use – a serious omission in the case of the Kompass maps; and neither series distinguishes unambiguously between sealed and gravel roads. On the whole the Kompass maps are much the better if you plan cycling off road.

Other information. The park authority in the Sibylline mountains is keen to promote mountain biking and they have made a selection of routes (see their web site). They publish a book Pedalando nel Parco summarising them. An old copy of a more adventurous book was for sale in the Amándola Casa del Parco.

The Trento pages link to a few sites describing routes in the area. But we didn’t make much use of any of these, relying instead on maps and whim.

The Case del Parco (park information offices) are worth a visit – most of all for their stylish tee-shirts bearing the park logo.

For general information we took an old edition of the Cadogan guide ‘Tuscany, Umbria and the Marches’ whose hedonistic leanings are in tune with our own.

Roads. Surfaces of minor tarmac roads are often poor. The gravel roads (white roads) are however good for their class with very little washboarding. The main difficulty on white roads is route-finding: they are almost unsignposted and when there’s one of them there’s often a hundred.

Signposting is nothing special on surfaced roads either. (But a brief visit to north Wales reminds me not to criticise other countries’ roadsigns.)

Weather. Not good for us. The first few days were hot and sunny. Thereafter a pattern set in of clear mornings, heavy cloud building up at lunchtime, and violent thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Legalities. To the best of my knowledge cyclists may go almost anywhere in the Sibylline mountains that walkers may go. But it may not be legal to take a bike into the Gola dell’Infernaccio, and you would not in any case be wise to do so.

Cyclists. The Topino valley seems to be popular with leisurely vehicle-assisted tours – no doubt with a large cultural, gastronomic and oenological component. Colin found the main square at Montefalco swarming with them. But the Umbrians (who seem to be the most English of Italians, even drinking beer) do not seem to cycle much, and the Sunday morning club runs so evident in Sicily were missing here. Away from the Topino valley we saw few cyclists. On the best (ie. most mountainous) routes we saw none at all, and Colin didn’t see a single mountain biker off road.

Practicalities. We flew to Rome and hired a car. Italians are very ugly drivers but at least the minor roads are quiet. The tower at Assisi was booked in England through Italian Life; our apartment at Le Piane through Discovery Travel.

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